Champagne is a region in northern France where true champagne is made. In other countries it’s known as a sparkling wine. In the Champagne region, the climate is cool, and the soil is chalky and rocky. Growing in these elements keeps the grapes from losing their acidity, creating crisp, dry flavors. However, sugar can be added to champagne to add a touch of sweetness. The three main grapes used to create champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
Champagne is not just for celebrations. Break out the bubbly on a random Tuesday evening and let the bubbles dance across your palate while dining on burgers, deep-fried cheese curds or fried chicken.
TESSA’S TWO CENTS
Tessa Leung, owner of Tessa’s Office wine boutique, has a deeply rooted relationship with champagne. In fact, her dream job is to be a champagne ambassador.
“To understand champagne while not breaking the bank, start with a sparkling wine like a prosecco from Italy or a cava from Spain because they’re less expensive. This will help you determine the characteristics you like or don’t like, and it makes it easier to recommend a bottle of champagne, which costs $50 or $60 a bottle,” Leung says.
“A good champagne or high-quality sparkling wine has bubbles that maintain a steady stream until the glass is empty unlike many lesser expensive sparkling wines,” she says. It’s created by the méthode traditionnelle, or traditional method. This method has two fermentation processes. First, the grapes are harvested when sugar levels are lower and acid levels are higher. Leung says, “The higher acid levels create crisp, green apple flavors or fresh pear-like flavors, rather than rich, sweet red apple flavors.”
The first fermentation process is the same as a non-sparkling wine and converts the grapes’ sugar into alcohol. The second fermentation process takes about 15 months and includes the addition of yeast and a small amount of sugar creating carbonation and spent yeast cells called “lees.” Lees collect in the neck of the bottle during the riddling process, which means gently shaking or turning the bottle. Once the lees are collected at the neck of the bottle, they’re removed by freezing the small amount of the liquid in the neck and replacing it with a wine and sugar solution.
Tessa’s Office features a wine club that’s perfect for those who like an adventure. There are three different levels within the club, each including thoughtful wine selections from around the globe.
BOND, JAMES BOND
Ari Kolas, owner of Apollo Liquor, says, “Champagne goes well with seafood and salads, especially if you make your own dressing using the champagne you’re drinking.”
Apollo offers a variety of champagne ranging from $40 to $120 per bottle. “We carry Bollinger champagne as featured in James Bond movies, along with other big producers like Moet and Chandon, Gaston Chiquet and Taittinger,” says Kolas. Apollo also sells Veuve Clicquot. He says, “Madame Clicquot, the producer of Veuve Clicquot, was the first female to take over a champagne house and create a well-respected brand.”
BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL
Andy’s Liquor offers many of the big name champagnes as well, like Dom Perignon, Cristal, Pierre Callot and Gaston chiquet. Steve Shanahan at Andy’s Liquor recommends drinking champagne from a large wine glass and not a flute. He says, “Champagne has big, bold and beautiful aromas and should be enjoyed in a larger wine glass. We (Andy’s Liquor) carry luxury stemware by Riedel which is perfect for champagne.”
OUT ON THE TOWN
When you’re out on the town, Five West and Chester’s Kitchen & Bar both serve champagne and sparkling wine. A few you may want to try at Five West include La Marca Prosecco, Candoni Elviana Rosé and Veuve Clicquot Brut. Chester’s serves Chandon Rosé Split and Moet and Chandon Imperial.
PRETTY PINK MIMOSA
- 1 bottle of champagne or sparkling wine (750 ml)
- 11/2 cups pink grapefruit juice
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, keep a few for garnish
- Pour all of the ingredients into a large pitcher and stir.
Pinot Meunier (pronounced pee-no moon-yay)
Billecart-Salmon (pronounced billycar sal-mon)
Moet & Chandon (pronounced mowett et shawndon)
Gaston Chiquet (pronounced gaston sheekay)
Veuve Clicquot(pronounced verve cleekoe)
Dom Perignon (pronounced dom perinyon)
Pierre Callot (pronounced pyair callo)
Nicole L. Czarnomski is a freelance writer in the Rochester area and has a newfound love of champagne.